Today’s blog was written by Courtney Lanthier, Law Clerk at Fasken LLP
The death of a loved one is never easy to handle, but add on the additional responsibility of acting as an executor and you almost don’t have time to grieve the loss.
One of the questions we should be asking our clients when starting to draft their Will is who will be the executor? It’s an important role, and can sometimes be a time consuming job, so the decision should be carefully considered. There should be a solid understanding of the assets, family circumstances and intentions/directions to be fulfilled under the terms of the Will before an executor is selected. Typically, when your clients are a married couple, the logical executor would be the other spouse. However, if there is no spouse in the picture and no children to step in, clients may consider appointing a friend, lawyer or a trust company. There is really no right or wrong answer as to who should be your appointed executor, but there are a few things that can be done to help make the chosen executor’s job run smoothly.
First, it’s important to make sure that the client has spoken to their potential executor and advised them of their appointment in the Will. Being told you’re a named executor is not always a very welcome surprise, especially considering the amount of work it can take to administer an estate. Second, it can be beneficial to encourage clients to create some sort of a list or document that contains information pertaining to their assets and where things can be found. While this may not be necessary for a married couple, if a client is not naming a spouse as their executor, this list could prove extremely helpful for the executor who would be stepping in with little to no knowledge of the assets held. This list can be as simple as naming the bank accounts, or it could have more detailed information such as:
- Where are valuables kept? Do they have a safety deposit box at a bank, or use an at home safe that contains jewellery, valuable pieces or important documents?
- What investments do they have, and who are the named beneficiaries? Did they have an RRSP/RRIF or any insurance policies, and where are the investments held?
- Do they want a funeral or do they have specific burial instructions? Have they arranged for a prepaid funeral?
- Do they have any pets and if so, what should happen to them? Some clients may include clauses in their wills to specifically deal with the care of any pets they currently have or may have in the future, but if there is nothing in the Will, a note indicating what should happen to any pets would be helpful.
- Do they own or rent a house or vehicle? Who is their insurance provider?
- What subscriptions did they have? There are many options these days for various streaming services or home deliveries (such as meal kits or grocery delivery), so it’s important to get these cancelled in a timely fashion to avoid any additional charges.
As with any estate, things will inevitably pop up along the way, but having this list set aside for an executor could be the difference between a chaotic, stressful administration, and a smooth, organized one. Death is hard enough as it is, so encourage clients to make this list, and in turn make their executor’s life that little bit easier.
 This is by no means an exhaustive list. A thorough discussion of all of the factors to be considered when choosing an executor are beyond the scope of this blog.